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Encouraging a Curiousity for World Cultures

By World Notes, LLC

From outsourced jobs to diversity training to the world-wide web, Americans are becoming more connected to people in other countries than ever before. There’s no question that today’s children, in order to succeed in the world of tomorrow, need to have a rich understanding of life beyond our borders.

Given how important this interest in the “global village” has become, what can parents and teachers do to make sure children don’t miss out?

As many adults responsible for youngsters know, very few things will make a child pick up a world history book unless some experience has inspired them to learn. If your children are the type to do so, take heart, as they are certainly on their way to becoming comfortable as citizens of the world and to understanding its intricacies and its richness. The advantage to them as they grow into adulthood will be enormous.

Many children, however, need a bit more encouragement to take an interest in the broader world, and that is where parents play a critical role. There are many things parents can do to infuse children with an interest in the international community, regardless of their age or your economic situation.

QuoteA variety of research shows that an interest in the wider world actually begins very early in life, as early as preschool or elementary school. Many people who have joined the Peace Corps, worked as international executives, or simply have an understanding and respect for foreign events and cultures can trace these interests back to “trigger” moments in their childhood that sparked an early awareness of the outside world. World Notes polled several hundred of these people and discovered a variety of ways to help foster an international consciousness. Most of these suggestions are easy to undertake and inexpensive to replicate.

Some examples are:

  • Use television and DVDs wisely. Look for travel shows, programs about animals around the world, or foreign language lessons – even very young children are intrigued by the sounds of another language. In many countries outside the US where English language television shows are available, children learn to understand and even speak English through this kind of exposure. With the variety of channels available in this country, it is not difficult to find shows in languages other than English. There are good resources in the home video and software markets for language instruction and cultural awareness.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have grandparents or other family members who are first or second generation immigrants, encourage them to talk with your children about their country of origin. Often they will remember songs and games they played when they were young and are more than willing to teach them to you and your family. Reach beyond your family to those of your friends and neighbors and get the extended families together to share. Ask them to tell you and your child about their countries, cultures and customs. Encourage your child to find similarities in his or her own life.
  • Peace Corps veterans can be exceptionally interesting sources of stories that will enthral your children. If you don’t know any Peace Corps veterans, explore “Peace Corps Kids” at
  • Encourage your children to study their own family genealogy. Fifty percent of all Americans can trace their roots to immigrants who came to America through Ellis Island. You may be surprised to find out that your family is among them.
  • Expose your children to different foods. Even Chinese take-out or pizza can be a learning experience for children. Do a little homework in advance so you can talk about the different foods and the cultures where they originate.
  • When you buy toys or games, look for products that depict other countries – globes, maps, or picture books can have a huge impact on children. Twenty years after Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit was first released in Japan to help children learn English, Japanese tourism in the UK increased dramatically, especially the Lake District and the Cotswolds where the author made her home. More than a third of those interviewed said it was because they had read her books when they were young.
  • Visit a foreign country. Even if you live in the US, it is a lot easier and probably less expensive than you think. Travel experiences will last a lifetime. Adventures await just across the border: Mexico and Canada are both fascinating places. Before you go, use some of the other tips above to expose your children to the country you’re planning to visit.
  • If you cannot travel, encourage friends who do travel to send postcards to your children. Or send an email or call you while they’re there. Celebrate the news from abroad by pulling out books or looking up the places on the web and talking about them. Ask your friends to bring your children some foreign stamps or coins and start a collection.
  • Encourage your children to write to pen pals – there are numerous safe sites on the web that help parents and children establish legitimate pen pal relationships. Unicef is one example.

These are just some ways an interest in international cultures can begin. Be creative – inspiration can come from seemingly unlikely places, such as these examples below:

  • One individual we spoke with became fascinated at the age of four with the Dr. Seuss classic Hop on Pop. He was intrigued with names like “Constantinople and Timbuktu” he begged his parents to tell him more about those places. He now works in the Middle East.
  • Another was given a UN cookbook when she was seven years old. She and her mother made many of the simple recipes from all around the world and the experience stuck with her. Years later, she headed a multi-national corporation spanning Europe and the former Soviet Union.
  • A third was passing by a foreign embassy late at night with her parents and asked why the lights were still on. When her parents explained that the embassy’s home country was in a different time zone, and that people were probably at the office, it occurred to the young girl that people in the building were actually getting paid to travel to and work in another country. That experience started her interest and career in international diplomacy.

Some of these ideas may help foster a your child’s curiosity for world cultures - you never know where inspiration may begin. With a little commitment and enthusiasm, you can open up the world to your children and give them the ability to go places about which you’ve only dreamed. Children prepared with the tools of world literacy under their belts are better equipped to become informed citizens of the world.

Bon Voyage.

About the Authors
Peter Arndt, founder of World Notes, which produces DVDs that introduce children to the wider world, lives in London with his wife Susan and one year old son Jake. Pete was "bitten" by the travel bug at nine years old when his father shared with him his own heroic exploits during WWII.

Gretchen Effgen, responsible for Media, Marketing and Sales at World Notes, lives in Boston with her husband Anthony and one year old daughter Ella. When, as a young child, Gretchen realized that her grandparents had spoken different languages when they were children, she became determined to discover her family roots in Germany and Poland.

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